FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots could be dealing with a lot of turnover at running back next offseason. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden are all entering the final year of their contracts in 2014.
With so much at stake, Ridley is trying to focus on staying mistake-free on the field and hoping that everything else will work itself out.
“Honestly, man, I try not to think too much about it,” Ridley said following Patriots organized team activities on Thursday. “I just really put my faith in God and that’s just as real as I can be. I got to go out there and play football and hit it hard and run the ball wide open. I’ve just got to be the same player that I’ve been up to this point and time. Just try to go out there and be mistake free.”
Ridley was the Patriots’ bell cow in 2012, carrying the ball 290 times for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. In 2013, those numbers dipped to a stat line of 178-773-7. He spent more time on the bench than he might like, and was inactive for Week 13 against the Houston Texans due to fumbling problems (four fumbles in 2013, three in a three-game span from Weeks 9-12).
As a result of his fumbles, he fell out of favor with the coaching staff last year, losing playing time to LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen. Ridley called it the most difficult experience of his playing career, but says he’s turning to his faith and spirituality to keep himself on a positive track.
“I want to aspire to be a 1,000-yard back every year,” he said. “And to not reach that, was kind of really a little bit under what I wanted, but it wasn’t about my personal goals. I think it really tested my faith. I really said it’s more about God’s time than my time. Everybody has what they think is the best for him. And everybody has that preset in their mind, but I think, as a Christian first, you’ve just got to realize that God has a plan for you. Whatever it may be, you just have to believe in that. Every day that you wake up and you’re healthy and your family is okay, you have friends around you, a team to play for, there’s so many people that would give a right arm and their right leg to have that opportunity. I have to be thankful.
“Even though you mess up and you’re going to be down some days, you just come to work the next day because yesterday is behind you. All you can do is go forward. That’s really what I learned through it all. Like I said, I’m just thankful.”
The also experience serves as a reminder that he must always be looking over his shoulder in a crowded backfield.
“In this system, always,” Ridley said, when asked if he feels like he is competing for the starting job. “I mean, you can go out there and be a starter one game and the next game, you’re two or three guys behind. So really, none of that matters. It’s week in and week out and that’s what coach [Bill Belichick] stresses to us every week — that we have to go out there and be competitive as we can be. He’s going to play the matchups game and we just have to be unselfish enough to go out there and capitalize on the plays that we get. It’s not really about competition between the room. I think we just have to push each other to make each the best that we can be.”
The Patriots lost Blount as a free agent, but added Wisconsin running back James White, who fumbled just twice in his 754 career touches at Wisconsin. That’s another immediate reminder of the importance of ball security in the Patriots offense — “ball security is job security,” in the words of White.
The Patriots also added Oklahoma running back Roy Finch and Indiana running back Stephen Houston as undrafted free agents. Finch offers special teams value and has a shifty, explosive style of play; Houston is the biggest back on the roster at 6 feet tall and 230 pounds.
“We’re still out there trying to win a job,” Ridley said. “Nothing is guaranteed. Coach reminds us of that every day. Nobody is a starter. Nobody has anything locked in. We have to go out there and work for every play that we have to get. So I’m just going out there and trying to be the best player I can be, individually, to help this team out and try to get this team to win a championship.”
The competition is already heating up, and the stakes are high. With Bolden, Vereen, and Bolden all entering contract years, it’s possible that only two, one, or none of the three could be back in 2015.